Public Health Agency of Canada's Innovation Strategy: A strategic funding model

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From 2009 to 2020, the Public Health Agency of Canada's Innovation Strategy (PHAC-IS) provided significant, strategic, and long-term funding to community based organizations across Canada in over 1700 communities. These projects addressed complex health challenges within the context of broader social and economic conditions that affect equity and, ultimately, the health of Canadians.

What's unique about this funding model

In order to understand the Innovation Strategy (IS) model, it is important to understand what makes it distinct from other funding models:

  • multi-level action
    • Each funded project operated at multiple levels (individual, family and community) and across multiple sectors and jurisdictions
  • vested partnership development
    • Meaningful partnership development was supported through longer term funding
    • Partnerships were multi-sectoral, pooled resources, and created a collective goal with an emphasis on scale-up for systems change across multiple provinces and territories
  • phased funding
    • 3 phases of funding for up to 9 years with investment in large-scale projects
  • social innovation
    • Phased approach provided an opportunity for projects to test and adapt community-based solutions with the potential for scale up
    • A spirit of continuous learning and critical reflection were key principles of the model
  • knowledge development and exchange
    • Focus on evaluation, new knowledge development for health promotion, and fostering the application of knowledge by policy makers and practitioners
  • scale
    • Focus on bringing successful projects to reach more communities
    • Further emphasis on scale-up through policy and systems change for long-term, sustainable impact

Phased approach

The PHAC-IS adopted a phased approach for effective projects to receive up to 9 years of funding. This provided projects the financial stability to develop lasting partnerships and to implement, test, and adapt their work while performing high quality research focused on longer-term impact.

Phase 1 supported the initial design, development, testing, and delivery of projects over an initial period of 12 to 18 months.

Phase 2 focused on full implementation, adaptation, and evaluation of population health projects that operated at individual and systems levels, and in multiple sites, over a period of up to four years.

Phase 3 fostered sustainability and supported efforts to expand the reach and impact of successful population health projects to benefit additional communities and populations. This funding was available for 3 years.

About the model

The Innovation Strategy's had 2 key objectives: to test and evaluate new, community-based approaches to promote health for individuals, families, and communities; and to apply the results to impact policy and program development in the field of population health promotion. This supported longer-term and sustainable systems change.

The Innovation Strategy focused on reducing health inequities in two priority areas: Equipping Canadians – Mental Health throughout Life and Achieving Healthier Weights in Canada's Communities. This was successfully accomplished through its phased approach for multi-year funding.

Achievements of the Innovation Strategy

  • PHAC-IS projects reached over 2 million people across Canada
  • Over 1400 partnerships established by community-led organizations across multiple sectors with more than $30 million of leveraged funds
  • 90% of projects and partnership networks had a sustained impact on policy and public health practice by the final phase of funding
  • All funded projects reported improvements in protective factors for project participants by the end of the program
  • 82% of projects continued to operate beyond PHAC-IS funding by obtaining funding from other sources or by integrating into an existing system through scale up

Successful aspects of the Innovation Strategy model have been integrated into a new iteration of the funding program: the Mental Health Promotion Innovation Fund. The newest addition to this funding model is the Knowledge Development and Exchange (KDE) Hub for Mental Health Promotion operated through Renison University College affiliated with the University of Waterloo.

A series of journal articles focused on the Innovation Strategy and its findings are available and published as a special issue by the Canadian Journal of Public Health.

Key themes of these articles include:

  • details on core components of the funding model
  • the model's scale up assessment tool
  • attributes of vested partnerships
  • addressing the social determinants of health and performance measurement insights

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